So I published an original song on October 2nd, 2018, which was my Stepdad David M. Werk's birthday. It wasn't exactly planned. We just so happened to finish it a few days before his birthday, so I thought to wait and announce it then. I guess it was meant to be: )
For those who don't know my history, my birth parents are Chinese (although we always get mistaken for Filipinos, so I will have to track our ancestry and confirm that later). But after their divorce, my mother came to America to pursue a whole new life and a second chance at love. She then met my stepdad-a tall, modest, funny, liberal, and cultured American man. Shortly after they started dating, I came to America. I remember one minute I was shaking Dave's hands at the front door of his Santa Monica house, then the next minute we were cracking up on a joke I uttered through my broken English. Dave and I bonded almost immediately, beyond culture, bloodline, age, and language. But I could have never imagined the father figure role that he willingly stepped into. He was the one that offered to pay for my vocal lessons after I decided to quit piano and take up singing. Not sure if quitting piano was the right decision (my mom could tell you her feelings on that), but I was proud that I made a choice on my own for the first time in my life. That's why it's so fitting that I release my very first original song-"Do You?", written and sung by me, on his birthday.
My journey to song-writing has been a very long one, about two decades to be exact. My music career started when I was four. I guess you can say that I fit the stereotype of "every Asian child plays an instrument" here in America, but since I grew up in China in the 90s, being able to study an instrument was actually a luxury. I played the electronic keyboard for about a year and then transitioned to real piano. After eight years of daily practice sessions, weekend lessons, recitals, tests, competitions, and moving the heavy piano from home to home, I decided that I was done. Perhaps it was my urge to become more "American". Perhaps it was teenage rebellion. Or perhaps I wanted to start a new chapter in my life. Whatever the reason, the decision was made to let go of piano and almost immediately welcomed singing into my life. And I'm sure I broke many hearts when that happened(Sorry mom and dad!)
Singing was a way of life for me in China. Almost every other weekend or occasion or celebration, we were in karaoke rooms. Those rooms were not just a place to sing, but also a place to share the love of music with friends and family; a place to dance; a place to let loose and be playful a place to grub on savory snacks(healthy and unhealthy) and sip on drinks (alcoholic and non-alcoholic). It was there that I sang before I could speak. During this early stage of exploring my voice, I was surrounded by encouragement and support from family. My parents were not musicians themselves, but their love of music was very apparent. I remember hearing records of Ace of Base play randomly on a weekday afternoon or being waken up to Michael Jackson's voice on a quiet summer morning. I was exposed to American 90's pop music while serenading to Chinese classics from 70s and 80s. Because of this rich musical experience growing up: classical piano training, karaoke rooms, Chinese and English pop music in the house, it seemed natural that I started vocal training. My singing voice that you hear now is the result of a few years of vocal lessons with a Broadway/contemporary vocal coach during high school plus a few years of coaching from an Opera singer and Doctor of music in recent years. Why don't I sound as good as Celine Dion by now? Well, I have no clue. Probably because I didn't do vocal exercises consistently. Or maybe I just wasn't born with that type of voice.
Either way, I don't want to sound like another Celine Dion, or Beyonce, or Rihanna. I don't think the audience wants to listen to another carbon copy, but an original. This took me years to realize. I remember the negative self-talk of "Oh I can't become her so why bother"; "I can't sing those high notes"; "I can't do runs"; "I'm not really a singer"; "I can't write music, I should stick to singing covers". If I didn't pull myself out of that black hole of negativity, then you wouldn't see the confident woman and artist that I am today. And honestly, there is beauty to how I create my music today, free of self-doubt (almost) and focusing on the artistry rather than the commercialization of it. I am defining my own rules and creating music that I believe in. My goal is to put out music that is more reflective of the world and life that we live in, which is more complex than just heart breaks and weekend raves. I want listeners to either take a pause and reflect, or get on their feet and dance!
So here it is, the journey behind the song. Often times, it's easy for people to judge an end product, deciding that they like or do not like something based on their feelings and perceptions. But I think as artists, it is essential for us to bring our audience into the journey, giving them insights to the purpose of the creation and the person who created it. This is not just simply a song, but a culmination of a lifetime of experiences, training, and love for music. I wanted to share this journey to say that I did not do this alone. From my birth parents, to my stepdad, to my piano teachers, to my vocal coaches, to all the musicians I have collaborated with (including David Perez who strummed the first chords on his guitar which inspired "Do You?"), to my friends turned fans and supported me along the way, to all the critics, they have all contributed to this point in my journey. I also want to emphasize the power of positive self-talk. Whoever you tell yourself that you are, you will become. You have to really believe it and work hard for it. It's not magic. But sometimes stepping out of your own way is the first step to success. This is something that I have improved on but still have to keep working on. Lastly, I want to say that it is important for us to recognize the things in our lives that we feel passionate about and that fuel us. Yes they might not seem reasonable to pursue at the moment or bring us immediate monetary incentive, but with persistence, I believe the universe will listen and respond one day.